A poll carried out for police watchdog HM Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) also found a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents felt unsafe walking alone at night in their neighbourhood.
The findings emerged in a survey of more than 26,000 people, which examined public attitudes toward policing.
Nationally, 36 per cent of people had not seen a police officer or PCSO on foot in their areas in the last year - while just under a quarter (23 per cent) had seen uniformed personnel “once or twice”. One in 10 said they saw patrols on foot at least once a week.
The future of traditional patrols by bobbies on the beat has come under close scrutiny in recent years as forces have faced falling staff numbers.
Participants in the survey were also asked how safe they felt when walking alone in their area after dark.
Nearly three-quarters felt safe and did not feel crime was a big problem, the research suggests. Half (50 per cent) said they felt “fairly” safe and nearly a quarter (24 per cent) felt “very safe”.
But one in five (21 per cent) felt “a bit” unsafe, and one in 20 (5 per cent) felt “very” unsafe.
Those who felt unsafe after nightfall were mostly from poor areas and disproportionately young or from black and minority groups, or both.
A local area was defined as within about 15 minutes walking distance from home.
Other findings include:
- The large majority of people are aware of cyber crime but know little about it or efforts to tackle it. Less than 0.5 per cent had been a victim or witness to cyber crime and only half of victims reported it.
- A third of 16 to 24-year-olds feel unsafe compared with 21 per cent of those aged 65 and over, while people living rurally or in the suburbs generally feel more secure than those in cities.
- Overall, those surveyed were twice as likely to “speak positively” about the police in their neighbourhood than to “express negative views”, yet the majority have no opinion or mixed attitudes.
- Ratings of police “trail most other local public services” like fire and rescue teams and schools.
- Nationally, 62 per cent do not think crime and antisocial behaviour is much of an issue while a quarter think it is a “big problem” in their area.
HM Inspector Mike Cunningham said it was “vitally important” for officers to understand public perception.
He added: “How the public experience and perceive the police has a marked effect on their feelings of safety and willingness to engage with the police and report crimes.
“We commissioned this survey in order to inform our inspection programme and have already begun to use these findings to inform the questions we ask of police forces.”
A Home Office spokesman said crime had fallen by more than a quarter since June 2010 according to an independent crime survey.
He added: “Ultimately, decisions on the size and composition of a police force’s workforce are for individual chief officers and Police and Crime Commissioners.
“But effective local policing has always been about more than just visibility and this is even more the case with crime increasingly taking place behind closed doors and online.”
Local policing Chief Constable Simon Cole said: “The importance of communication and engagement stands out of this research.
“Those who feel more informed about their local police and are confident they can get hold of police when needed feel safer.”
Ipsos Mori surveyed more than 26,000 people online aged 16 and over across England and Wales between July 15 and August 6 last year.
Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said: “There is a simple reason why people go so long without seeing a bobby on the beat - Theresa May cut the police budget in each of the last six years.
“Everyone should feel safe in their home, at work and in their communities but, under the Tories, we’ve seen the loss of over 19,000 officers including more than 12,000 of those from the front line.
“As home secretary, Theresa May promised real-terms protection for the police but the statistic watchdog told her she failed to deliver it. Now that decision is entirely within her hands, she must honour her promise and protect frontline policing.”
Lucy Hastings, director of the Victim Support charity, added the findings “demonstrate that there is still some way to go” in improving the support given to witnesses and victims of crime before they get the “respect they deserve”.
She added: “Our research tells us that proper communication between the police and victims of crime is vital. Without it, victims may feel isolated and come to believe that their case is being neglected or not taken seriously.
“All police staff should be fully aware of their obligations under the Victims’ Code and measures put in place to ensure that those obligations are being met.”